In this capital city, for example, you can’t find a Starbucks on every corner, but you don’t have to go far without seeing one. Look in another direction and you’re likely to see a McDonald’s. Hungry for some KFC? The colonel’s smiling face and long white beard are easy to spot in strip malls or as stand-alone stores. Even when you can’t spot an American fast-food chain, a Coca-Cola always seem to be nearby. If you’re looking for a place to lay your head, there’s the luxurious Ritz Carlton and the Fairmont hotels or the less expensive Hilton, Grand Hyatt, Courtyard and Radisson waiting for you to check in.

Unless you’re a native of New York City, a first-time visitor to the world’s most populous country might be shocked by the sheer number of people – 16.5 million in Shanghai, 12.2 million in Beijing, 9.4 million in Chongqing, 9 million in Shenzhen and 8.8 million in Guangzhou. In all, China is home to 20 percent of the world’s population.

More than the numbers, though, is how people behave. In overcrowded public places – even on international flights to China – many Chinese will cut in front you without saying “excuse me” or giving it a second thought. They don’t consider that rude, but it would certainly qualify as such in all 50 states back home and the District of Columbia.

Because of population density, most city residents live in high-rise apartments that look no different from those in major U.S. cities. Like Co-Op City in the Bronx, some high-rise apartments are clustered together. Others have more distance between them. And like Manhattan, another New York borough, there is constant motion.

In less congested quarters, the Chinese people we interacted with were hospitable, gracious and eager to welcome foreigners to their country. Chinese are known for sending students abroad to study, in hopes that they will return home and put that knowledge to use. But few American students study in China, something President Obama plans to change.

In November 2009, Obama announced the “100,000 Strong” initiative, a private-sector philanthropic effort to expand the number of U.S. students studying in China.

“Ten times more Chinese students come to the United States for educational programs than Americans who study in China and 600 times more Chinese study the English language than Americans who study Mandarin. This imbalance in knowledge can undermine strategic trust between the two countries,” a U.S. State Department fact sheet noted.

It observed, “The need for Americans to gain greater exposure to and understand China is clear: there is perhaps no more important or complex relationship in the world than that between the United States and China in terms of securing global peace and security. Virtually, no major international issue – whether global economic recovery or climate change or nuclear non-proliferation can be solved without the active engagement of both the United States and China, working in concert.”

Chinese students are far ahead of the game, studying English as early as the first grade.

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